I cannot change the context in which I watched Psycho, and for this, I feel that I must apologize, because it has undoubtedly ruined my ability to love it as much as most do.
Firstly, it is 2009. It has been nearly 50 years since the film was released, which changes how we see it. Apparently, at the time, the movie (and the shower scene in particular) were considered the most terrifying and gruesome things anyone had ever seen. Now, it looks pretty darned goofy. The fast cuts that make the scene so “exhilarating” do not change the fact that it looks like the victim is being stabbed by a slot machine… or some other mechanism that makes regular arched, up-and-down motions.
Secondly, this is not the first time I had seen it. Watching Psycho, when you know the ending is like watching The Sixth Sense again, but without the fun of trying to catch all the little hints you missed before. Instead, you feel stupid for not having noticed it the first time around. It’s nowhere near as enjoyable when you know the twist, as Hitchcock was very aware, as evidenced by the fact that he bought up as many copies of the novel as possible in order to prevent people from finding it out.
Considering both of these factors, it’s hard to be objective or totally immersed in the film. Distracting factors aside, I was still impressed by more than one part of the movie. For starters, Anthony Perkins’ Norman Bates is an excellent character that elicits simultaneous feelings of sympathy, unease, and total revulsion.
Also incredibly effectively, Hitchcock (and I assume Robert Bloch, the author of the novel) creates a story and experience that leaves you without any point of reference when the assumed heroine is (SPOILER) killed half-way through. By this point, the only other character who we have seen anywhere near enough to associate with is the aforementioned pitiful creep, Norman Bates. By the end, we are left feeling incredibly vulnerable, as more than once, our familiar characters are killed off as soon as they seem to adopt the protagonist mantle.
Alfred Hitchcock was often criticized for ushering in a new wave of gore-laced horror films. If that’s true, by the time we reached the 21st century, the floodgates of increased viscera and subsequent desensitization to it, eventually led to here and now, where the film that started it all has not only lost most of its impact, but has become a quaint reminder of what “scary” used to mean.